Jewish students respond to Ilhan Omar’s BDS comments

Some Jewish students on campus were left frustrated by Omar’s recent comments.

Isabella Murray

Recent comments by elected officials about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel have sparked dialogue between student groups on campus.

Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar was recently quoted online saying she’s always supported BDS, although she has “reservations on the effectiveness of the movement in accomplishing a lasting solution.” Omar previously criticized the campaign in August. In the wake of previous BDS efforts around campus, some students have voiced support and disdain for the resurgence of the movement.

BDS is a global campaign promoting boycott against Israel in various forms. Ahmree Schear, Gopher Israel co-president, said he opposes the effort due to its polarizing nature.

“The reason I oppose BDS is — I will actually just quote what Ilhan said [in August], … ‘In order for us to have a process of getting to a two-state solution, people have to be willing to come to the table and have a conversation about how that is going to be possible, and I think [BDS] stops the dialogue,'” Schear said.

The University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine have been vocal proponents of BDS on campus.

“SJP UMN wants to vocalize their support for [Omar’s] courageous stand on the side of justice,” SJP said in a statement to the Minnesota Daily. “[BDS] is a form of free speech that places an action plan of nonviolent resistance in the hands of people for Palestinian rights.”

Some members of the Jewish community around campus said they are disheartened by the contradictions in Omar’s statements more than the remarks themselves.

“It’s sad to think that you have someone’s support and then it’s moved away from you; it feels like a little bit of a disregard for the community,” said Minnesota Hillel President Eli Singer. “I just hope that [Omar] is taking the steps necessary to talk to students and people who have opinions on all sides of the issue.”

The timing of the comments proved to be problematic for some Jewish students. Omar was quoted on her support of BDS on a site called MuslimGirl.com on Nov. 11, a few days after her election.

“To come out the day after the election and take this position on BDS is not a good way for her to start off a relationship with the Jewish community that she’s representing,” said Noah Farber, Gopher Israel co-president.

Junior Talor Blustin said he wouldn’t change his support for Omar, but isn’t pleased with the way her position shifted.

“I’m not sure I would change the way I voted because I think Ilhan represents a lot of good change in our communities, but I’m frustrated that she couldn’t come out with her beliefs in the first place,” Blustin said.

Support for the campaign played out around the University last spring, when SJP brought BDS efforts to the all-campus election through a referendum calling for the University to divest from companies supporting Israel.

“As apartheid Israel has been abusing international law and disregarding the freedom of the Palestinians, it is only correct that there is condemnation of these acts,” SJP said in the statement. “With the recent anti-BDS laws that have been put into practice in many states across the United States, it is met with much courage to speak out in support.”

Gopher Israel and Hillel leadership said they look forward to seeing Omar’s position play out in Congress.

“Because there’s been this back-and-forth, I don’t know where her politics really stand, and I think it’s interesting to see what happens as she moves through,” Singer said. “Maybe the issue will never come up, and if it does come up, how is she going to respond?”

In the meantime, they said they hope to continue having open dialogue with other University students in hopes of fighting any anti-Semitic behavior.

“Our main goal is to hear from different viewpoints and perspectives and hold events that are welcoming and open to people who have a wide variety of different opinions and promote dialogue, and I think one of the repercussions of that is that it does fight anti-Semitism,” Farber said.

The Minnesota Daily could not reach Omar for comment.